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Bicycle Coalitionof the Delaware Valley

Position on the Philadelphia Bicycle Courier Bill (1997)

Philadelphia City Council, in response to pressure by (largely elderly)pedestrians concerned with bicycles running red lights and riding sidewalks,introduced a bill to require bicycle couriers to be licensed by the city.

The Bicycle Coalition maintains that bicycle couriers are scapegoats,that any cyclist moving quickly is assumed by many non-cyclists to be acourier. Current traffic law adequately addresses the problems and concernscited without creating new and unneeded bureaucracy or regulations.

We are also concerned that licensing couriers will lead to requiringall cyclists to be licensed.

N.B.: BCDV position is that all cyclists should obey all applicabletraffic laws. The courier bill doesn't change traffic law, but rather singlesout a very small group of people for extra enforcement.

The bill was reported out of committee with favorable recommendation(against our advice) and went to the full Council.

Testimony for Jeff Abrahamson, board member, Bicycle Coalition ofthe Delaware Valley. April 16, 1997:

The Bicycle Courier Bill is a well meaning bill that, unfortunately,just isn't a good idea. It doesn't significantly change existing law, butit does increase bureaucracy. It doesn't have significant teeth. It discriminates.It means well, it's just not a very good bill.

But let's look at the bill itself.

"Whereas, On average fifty pedestrians are killed each year andover 2,400 pedestrians are injured in the City of Philadelphia."

These are grave concerns.

But this bill doesn't address these issues. No one has ever been killedby a bicycle in Philadelphia. Only a few have been injured by bicycles.Cars, trucks, and buses, however, handily take up the slack, dispatchingthose 50 and 2400 to macadam everlasting and local hospitals.

"Whereas, Basic traffic laws are routinely ignored by motorists,bicyclists, and pedestrians in our City."

Agreed. But why are couriers being singled out today? They're an infinitesimalfraction of the vehicle mix. Even if they commit a disproportionate shareof violations, which is not clear in a city where even the police routinelyrun red lights without exigent cause & emdash; even if they committwice their share of the violations, twice a small number is still small.

Traffic law violators are a problem. So let's target the behavior, notoccupations. If you run a red light, I really don't care who your employeris or what you do to get your pay check: you broke the law. Full stop.End of story.

"Whereas, The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code [says that cyclists havemostly the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators]."

And again, how many times shall we pass the same law? Is our life improvedby the weight of the law books rather than by weight of law? The Commonwealthalready provides for preventing the very behaviors that concern us. Whatissue brings us here today?

We don't need new laws that repeat the old ones. If we can't find itwithin ourselves to enforce the old ones, what do we gain by repeatingourselves in the statutes? Do we have so little faith in our police andour judges that we hope, by mere repetition, to bring attention to thelaw? Does the simple addition of bureaucracy (training, licensing, andso forth) improve anyone's life?

OK, so this bill doesn't address the real issues. So it isn't needed.Aside from a little extra bureaucracy, what harm does it do?

Plenty. For one thing, it's nigh unenforceable. And laws that we can'tor don't enforce teach people that laws maybe aren't so important afterall.

To begin with, suppose you're a police officer who's noticed that acyclist, dressed in tights and dark cycling clothes, low bag slung overthe shoulder, doesn't have the required courier ID. Do you stop him? Ifhe's a courier, he's violating the law by not having the ID. If he's nota courier, or he's a courier who's off duty, he has no obligation whatsoeverto carry the ID. So you have to choose between harassing innocent bicyclistsby enforcing the ID law, or you have to just assume that no ID means he'snot a courier.

Now, suppose you're that same police officer who's noticed that a cyclistjust ran a red light. Do you flag him off the road and ticket him? Youbet you should! Does it matter now whether he's a courier? It shouldn't.He ran a red light!

So how did the courier bill help? Well, if you pull him over and he'sa courier (I don't know how you'll know that) and he's on duty, not, say,on his lunch break, I guess you now have the right to fine someone $25.Of what benefit does society see the fruits when this elaborate bill merelydisguises the right to levy the occasional $25 fine?

Next, why should an employer care how his delivery person delivers goods?The pizza shop down the block from me has had, over the years, delivererswho walk, skate board, bicycle, and drive cars. Should the proprietor enduredifferent regulations depending on how the chap bringing my pizza travelsdown the block?

Now, about those ID cards. On cars, license plates work pretty well.Put it on a nice, solid piece of metal and there it stays. But on thesebendable, moving bodies of ours that we cover with soft fabrics that waveand ripple in the wind, just where were you hoping that the ID card wouldrest?

I could put it on my back, where you might see it if my jacket isn'tflapping around too wildly. I could put it on the bike, of course, butthen just where would I put it so that it is never blocked by the boxesthat I carry? And don't forget that it can't block my tail light!

OK, fine, you might say. But at least we get to know that couriers arebeing adequately trained in the rules of the road. But what's adequatetraining? Here I am, courier company owner, and I have to train you asa courier. Do you have a valid PA driver's license? Great: just sign thispaper here saying that you acknowledge that bicyclists have to follow thesame rules of the road as cars. I'm done.

Does that scare you a bit? It should. Because all those cars out there,the ones that are killing 50 pedestrians in the city every year and injuring2400 more--those cars aren't really following the rules of the road verywell. And jay walking pedestrians and errant cyclists don't help, althoughthey can't kill with quite the same force as a ton of Chevrolet at 30 mph.

And that's pretty much the point of all this: if we want safer streets-- and we do! -- then we need to educate everyone who uses them. And weneed to enforce the traffic laws against everyone who violates them.

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